It happens this way in archives sometimes. One minute, you are moving a roll of plans from one shelf to another, and carefully keeping a record of its new location; the next, you are rediscovering some long-lost treasure*.
It was in 1978 that we acquired collection D1849, the archives of the Osmaston Estate. The collection includes rent books, tenancy papers, some plans and photographs, and family papers of the Walker family, which acquired Osmaston Manor after the death of Francis Wright (1806-1873). A list for the collection was circulated soon afterwards. However, entry D1849/14 on that list, (“Osmaston Manor plans”) had no descriptive details, and our internal record to say which shelf held the plans said only “number not used”.
As I intimated above, the plans were re-discovered when there was a need to rationalise some of our storage. That is the good news. The bad news is the state they were in:
As carefully as I could, I took a few minutes to have a look at them, so as to add some details to the catalogue. The relevant entry now reads:
D1849/14: Plans of Osmaston Manor, 1850-1873.
Approximately 20 architectural plans and sketches of building works. Most of the plans bear the name of Francis Wright Esq. Including:
-Plan of Osmaston Manor showing pipeage
-Section drawing showing details of cresting on conservatory
Details of windows on proposed lodge at village entrance (rough, in pencil) at scale 1.5 inches to 1 foot
-Elevation of flag tower
-Plans of fountain
-Section drawing showing “bridge across the back road”. Signed by Henry Isaac Stevens, architect, dated 18 Feb 1850.
-Plan of stable court and surrounding buildings at scale 1 inch: 8 feet. Stamped “Butterley Ironworks” on the reverse
These items are in poor condition and cannot be produced until conservation work has been completed.
I cannot be any less vague about the details, and for once it’s not my fault – if I had spent any longer trying to inspect the goods, I would only have worsened their condition. Lien, our Senior Conservator, has had a look at the plans and will be deciding how best to render them fit for use in future. That may be a long-term project, but an early stage will be to get the plans stable enough to photograph or scan, so people can view them on the computers in our searchroom.
It makes sense that at least one of the plans is stamped “Butterley Ironworks” – in 1830, Wright had become senior partner in the Butterley Company, “which he dominated for the next forty-three years”, according to his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The same source takes the view that “the outward sign of Wright’s success was the building of a great country house, Osmaston Manor, outside Ashbourne, in 1846–9”.
And if you want to show off your success by erecting buildings, you hire the best architect you can find. In Wright’s case, it was Henry Isaac Stevens of Derby (1806-1873 – yes, his years of birth/death really are the same as Francis Wright’s). I only saw the signature of Stevens on one of the plans, which was dated 1850, but at least some of the others will be his work, and given the dates of construction mentioned in the DNB, I feel sure that the 1850 plan will not be the oldest in the bundle.
Osmaston Manor was demolished in the 1960s. You can find out more about it on the Osmaston Park website, which describes what this location has to offer as a wedding venue.
*”treasure” is an over-worked term when it comes to news of archival discoveries, so I’m sorry for using. But the truth is, it’s ALL treasure to somebody, or we wouldn’t be keeping it!